I think I have a man crush on EELS singer Mark Oliver Everett. It’s not a sex thing, and it’s never anything less than manly. But as he hugs each member of his band in turn during their Seattle concert at the Showbox at the Market, I want to feel one of those hugs too.
EELS have always trod an emotional tightrope with their off-center indie rock. It’s little wonder that ‘My Beloved Monster’ has become one of their biggest hits, appearing in movie soundtracks and breakup mixtapes for the last ten years. It’s weird, it’s catchy, it feels like a little piece of your soul. It’s quintessential EELS. Even their more aggressive, upbeat output – ‘Fresh Blood’, ‘The Sound of Fear’ – has an emotional core that few other bands could pull off. It’s little wonder that I want Mr. E to share some of that love around.
The Showbox is busy for a Tuesday night, and I’m clearly not the only one feeling the positive vibes in the air. From chord one the crowd is into everything E says and does, hanging on his words between songs and bobbing and swaying with the music. Opening with ‘Bombs Away’ they give free rein to the new material from Wonderful, Glorious, including a raucous version of ‘Peach Blossom’. As strong as the new songs are, however, there’s an extra buzz of excitement whenever they revisit one of their earlier hits. ‘Tremendous Dynamite’ and ‘Fresh Feeling’ sound as vibrant and as thrilling as ever, while the mashup of ‘My Beloved Monster’ and ‘Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues’ is as irreverent – and as uplifting – as anyone might have hoped for.
Everett has always been renowned for reinventing himself, and this tour is no exception. Gone is the bushy beard, and 2011′s bandana, and much of the early electronica. EELS have shed their skin and re-emerged as a balls-out rock band. Often rocking three guitars – plus bass – they make a fearsome noise when they want to. That they do so while wearing matching adidas tracksuits and aviator sunglasses in no way detracts from the effect. It just serves to underline the fact that this is not your average rock’n'roll band – even if they do cover a couple of classic rock tracks during their set. This is EELS, and they have their own way of doing things.
As the night progresses the heavyset, bearded guy next to me works up a sweat, thrashing around and headbanging to anything with a beat. He looks like a leftover from the grunge era, or maybe the paleolithic. But when Mr. E reaches his emotional peaks you can almost see his eyes mist over with tears. EELS have produced some of the most elegantly touching rock of the last ten years. For one night only, everyone needs a hug.